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Homo Sapiens/ Doctor battles for better care in Sudan

12/21/2005 9:52am

Naoyuki Kawahara, 40, wasn't tilting at windmills when he opened a new practice in Sudan. But he did name his nongovernmental organization (NGO) after Rocinante, the skinny horse that Don Quixote rode in the novel.

That's because, he says, each person might be as frail as that horse, but if enough people work together, they can achieve something. Nowadays, the doctor and his NGO Rocinantes are trying to achieve better health care for the Sudanese. Kawahara treats cancer patients at Ibn Sina Hospital in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. He also visits refugee camps and examines up to 30 or 40 patients a day. In particular, Kawahara hopes to improve the cancer screening process in Sudan so that more patients will have a greater chance of recovering from the disease.

To do so, Kawahara is seeking the cooperation of Japanese universities and other organizations, he says. "I like Africa, where the people are warm. In the future, I would like to provide not only medical services but also offer support in the fields of welfare and education," he said. A native of Kita-Kyushu, Kawahara studied medicine at Kyushu University.

In 1998, when he finished graduate school, he moved to Tanzania. There, he worked as a medical attache at the Japanese Embassy for three and a half years. Then he studied tropical medicine in Britain. Kawahara's work in Sudan began in September 2003, when he took the post of medical attache at the embassy there. Eventually, however, Kawahara became frustrated with the job because he was not allowed to examine local patients at his own discretion.

"I always wanted to examine patients waiting in front of me," he said. He was also moved by the devoted local doctors who had only old medical equipment to use for treating patients. So, Kawahara left the embassy post in January, set up his NGO Rocinantes, and started helping patients at local hospitals and refugee camps.

The NGO has two other members. One is somebody Kawahara knew from a rugby club at Kokura Senior High School in Kita-Kyushu. The other is a Japanese student studying in Sudan who works as an interpreter. Kawahara had little money to set up the NGO. He lives in Sudan in a friend's house. Kawahara briefly returned to Japan in October to see his wife and three children. Kawahara's family initially opposed his work there. But their support has grown because his work is attracting the help of a friendly network.

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